Sons use e-books to help virus-stricken dad, other patients

August 17, 2020 GMT
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Nicky and Sam Woolf talk about their project Books for Dad, with some of the audio devices at their home in London, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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Nicky and Sam Woolf talk about their project Books for Dad, with some of the audio devices at their home in London, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON (AP) — Geoff Woolf gave his sons a love for literature. When he got sick with COVID-19, they turned to books to help him — and others.

The 73-year-old retired lawyer was hospitalized in London in March, and within days he was on a ventilator in intensive care. Unable to visit, his family could only watch from afar with frustration and dismay.

Then sons Nicky, a 33-year-old journalist, and Sam, a 28-year-old actor, had an idea: Maybe literature could help him and other patients.

“He always said if he was in hospital for a long time, he would be able to deal if he had a book,” Sam said.

The brothers loaded an e-reader with Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — “his comfort read,” according to Sam — and played it for their unconscious father.

Doctors said, ”‘We can’t tell you he’ll definitely hear it. But we also can’t tell you he won’t,’” Sam said. “There is power in hearing a voice.

The brothers set out to acquire more devices for other patients. As they came to terms with the likelihood of losing their father, they saw the project, which they named Books for Dad, as a legacy.

Nicky and Sam recruited a team of volunteers to load e-readers, donated by audiobooks company Audible, with content, including classic novels, thrillers and podcasts. They delivered an initial batch of 20 — disinfected and individually bagged — to the hospital treating their father, along with single-use headphones donated by British Airways. Soon they were distributing dozens more to other hospitals around the U.K.

Books for Dad is a boon to hospitals looking for ways to keep patients stimulated. Often patients are too sick to read a book, and some don’t have their own electronic devices. Even if they do, patchy WiFi can hamper audio and video streaming.

Lisa Anderton, head of patient experience at University College London Hospital, said the “brilliant” initiative can help both coronavirus and other patients.

Hospitalization is stressful even in the best of times, and the ability to “pop your headphones on and just listen to something that takes you somewhere else, I think really changes how people feel and how people cope with what can be an alien as well as a very busy environment,” Anderton said.

From the initial donation, Books for Dad has kept growing, and the brothers plan to distribute 5,000 e-readers to British hospitals over the next six months and add books for children and young adults to their content.

As the project expanded, Geoff Woolf had secondary infections, organ failure and a major stroke. Doctors began to discuss the possibility of switching off life support.

Then, after almost four months of hospitalization including 67 days on a ventilator, he began to improve. In late July he was discharged from Whittington Hospital, workers applauding as he was wheeled out of the ward en route to a specialized neurological hospital where his recovery continues.

His sons know he has a long road ahead.

“But considering the place where he was, which was ‘Goodbye,’ it is remarkable that he has come back to a state where he is aware, he understands what’s going on,” Sam said. “Communication is very difficult. But he has comprehension, and with comprehension there’s the capacity for a life worth living.”

What the brothers once thought would be a project honoring a life cut short has now become a legacy of their love for their father, they said.

“And how much his love of literature meant to us,” Nicky added, “and how meaningful it was to be able to pass that on to other people.”


While nonstop news about the effects of the coronavirus has become commonplace, so, too, have tales of kindness. “One Good Thing” is a series of AP stories focusing on glimmers of joy and benevolence in a dark time. Read the series here: